Children; The Most Affected in the Bloody Syrian Civil War

UNICEF recently released a report on the effects of war in Syria on the children caught in the middle. Specifically, the report pointed to an overwhelming struggle for children with disabilities. Eastern Ghouta, (just outside of the capital Damascus) has been worst hit in recent months from constant bombardment from the Syrian and Russian air force.


The intensifying violence of the first two months of 2018 has killed or injured 1,000 children already. This astonishing adolescent death total is accompanied by the highest ever number of children killed in Syria last year and over the seven-year span of the war. Conflict is now the leading cause of death among children in the country.

Interactive map HERE


The devastation and continuing war has meant a generation of Syrian’s will have grown up surrounded by war, chaos, and, a constant threat of death. We can sit comfortably on our sofas at home and donate multiple sums of money to rebuilding Syria, their hospitals and medical centers, Schools, agriculture etc. But rebuilding a child’s mind after such devastating trauma is not something to take lightly. Such intense trauma has raised concerns that widespread mental health issues could prevent Syrian’s from ever recovering even after the fighting stops.


If a similar traumatic event happened in the west all kinds of financial, physical and mental support would be offered to those caught in the crossfires. But what will be done for Syria’s children? As it stands 90% of Syrian refugees are residing in the neighboring countries that are themselves in no state economically to treat and support. Those that have made it to pockets of Europe willing to grant asylum face alienation, xenophobia and an increasingly anti-Islamic society in countries like Italy.


To truly understand the damage such trauma could inflict on children, and what future damage could be caused if not treated, I spoke with Dr. Georgina Clifford, Director of London Trauma Specialists. Dr. Clifford made it clear that not everyone who experiences such difficult circumstances develops PTSD or mental health issues.


Asking about Syrian children and the likely hood of them developing PTSD. “It’s very much something that has to be done on an individual basis, not every child that experiences trauma will develop PTSD.”. Dr. Clifford continued to explain “…the development of long-term PTSD especially in children can vary on a number of factors, one of the most important things for children though is a supportive environment. If a child has a supportive family, they are likely to recover better after experiencing trauma than a child with unsupportive carers or family”


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is most commonly thought of as a disorder revered for those who fight in wars, but in reality, we are all susceptible to acquiring some form of PTSD. Even small repetitive trauma can lead to PTSD, and those most likely to develop PTSD are first responders, service personnel, and children.


Over the past seven years, Civil War in Syria has torn the country apart, flattened its cities and uprooted millions of its civilians as many fled to safer surrounding the border. But even for those that escaped the hell that is wartime in Syria, plenty of traumatic experiences laid ahead. Finding a country willing to take you in is the first difficulty some like Lebanon and Turkey took millions, whereas the U.S and most of Europe (bar Germany) took far less than a million even though those nations have greater capacity finically to accommodate such refuge.


There are hopes the guns will eventually be silenced and that hope maybe drawing nearer, but for now, the devastation continues to shape the lives of Syria’s youth and split communities up. Eventually, an end will come, but when that day comes we must continue to support the country and its people to properly heal.


Complicating the issue further is the share number of people caught up in the War, Millions of children, men and women have had their lives turned upside down. Effectively examining such complicated symptoms is no easy task and seems impossible to do on such a wide scale.


“If you wanted to tackle it on a larger scale, you’d wait 4 weeks after the traumatic experience and then evaluate the individual to see if they show symptoms of PTSD. To complete a comprehensive assessment, it usually takes between 30 minutes to an hour and a half, again depending on the complexity.”.


I asked in a situation like we are witnessing in Syria, what can be done to treat those in need, “…you’d contact agencies working directly with those affected and supply information on the symptoms of PTSD and those that identified some symptoms would seek out evaluation”.


Based on information supplied by Doctors Without Borders implicating such a widespread screening operation would be close to impossible with many Syrians still unregistered refugees or besieged in regions of the country. Even with those who are able to be examined, anywhere near 100% accuracy would be difficult to achieve with the enormous variety of PTSD and mental health characteristics.


One thing is certain however, both Syria and its people desperately need a conclusive and peaceful resolution to the bloody Civil War. Such a resolution will have to seriously consider the implications of the War on mental health as well as the more obvious physical scars.


By Luke Ambrose

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